Citizens for Needham Schools is dedicated to providing accurate, timely, and relevant information to help families and residents understand school-related issues and make informed choices. To fulfill our mission, we attend every school committee meeting, and have listened and watched over the years as district leadership has examined possible solutions to address the needs of the Needham Public Schools’ administrative and operations teams. We have witnessed the careful deliberations the committee has engaged in to find a solution that balances costs and needs.
The CNS Board unanimously supports the proposed historic renovation of Emery Grover for the following reasons:
To meet the needs of Needham’s students, our school leadership requires a work environment that is safe, professional, and allows for interdepartmental collaboration. The district is engaged in challenging and important work on both equity and the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies that requires collaboration among the leaders and departments housed in the building, including Curriculum/Student Learning, Student Support Services, and Human Resources. In addition, the COVID pandemic has introduced new challenges for our schools and students that the district will be addressing in the years to come.
The central location of the Emery Grover site benefits both school administrators and families. School administrators frequently work onsite at our various schools, so being located near the center of town makes those trips easier and faster for staff. The proximity to Town Hall allows for close collaboration with the Town Manager and town departments when developing the school budget. And the building is accessible by public transportation (both bus and train), which helps both staff and families who may not have access to a car.
Renovating Emery Grover now is the fastest and most cost-effective solution available. After many years of study, the historic renovation of Emery Grover remains the least expensive option for a new or renovated building. Investigations into leasing, using other sites, or new construction at the Emery Grover site will all be more costly and take more time than a historic renovation. Delaying the project will lead to annual cost escalations and will then interfere with school building projects which are currently only in the early planning stages.
The project has the full support of the Superintendent and the School Committee. Dr. Gutekanst and the School Committee have studied this project for many years. They have a deep understanding of the needs for our district leadership, and expertise as to what is needed to effectively run a school district.
We are sharing a more detailed overview of the project below, along with links to additional resources, to allow families and community members to better understand the project and why it has the support of our Board.
LINKS & RESOURCES
Constructed in the late 1800s, the Emery Grover building is the oldest historic building in Needham and is on the Massachusetts and National Registers of Historic Places. Having served the town as the original high school, it later became the heart of school operations as the administration building. In addition to the office of the Superintendent, many key departments are housed in the building including Curriculum/Student Learning, Student Support Services & Special Education, Human Resources, Transportation, Nutrition Services, and Financial Operations.
The continuing deterioration of the building has led to numerous studies over the past 30 years to examine the best options for a new building to house these critical services. Several alternative sites were considered, including Stephen Palmer, Hillside, Greendale Avenue, Harris Ave, and Dwight Road. But after the most recent Feasibility Study in 2020, the historic renovation with addition of Emery Grover at a cost of $27,095,000 was recommended as the optimal solution.
Updated Project Scope and Cost
In response to cost concerns, additional options have been studied in recent months, including leasing space, renovating Hillside, and reducing the size of the project.
By removing space for the IT department from the new building, the project can be contained within the footprint of the existing building. (IT is currently divided between Hillside and Broadmeadow, and would remain in those buildings.) The revised cost is now $20,875,000, and includes preparing Hillside for temporary swing space as well as the design plans for the new building. Compared to the other options studied, this is the least expensive and has the earliest completion date (September 2024). It is also the only option which qualifies for Community Preservation Act funding, estimated around $6 million.
Emery Grover renovation (original)
Emery Grover renovation (revised)
Emery Grover demolition and new construction
Hillside demolition and new construction
Hillside demolition and new construction with IT
Hillside partial demolition and renovation with IT
*Both the original and revised historic renovations are eligible for CPA funds Source: Oct 5 School Committee Packet, page 41
Source: FAQ Presentation, slide 6
Leasing comparable space is projected to cost about $900,000 per year plus an initial investment of $1.6-2.6 million to outfit the space. At that rate, the cost of leasing will exceed the cost of construction in approximately 20 years. But there was no response from brokers or landlords to the district’s latest leasing inquiries, indicating lease space is not available.
This project has been repeatedly deferred over three decades in favor of other necessary school advancements including new buildings and district-wide all-day Kindergarten. The estimated cost of the project from the 2013 Feasibility Study was $9.7 million, and the cost of the project has more than doubled in less than 10 years. Postponing further will likely incur similar increases in cost. Feasibility studies are only viable for up to five years before a new study would need to be commissioned, and waiting will likely also incur additional cost for using Hillside as swing space due to regulations that would require it to be brought up to code.
RECENT NPS PROJECTS
1990 – Town of Needham Facility/School Master Plan Study (Tappe & Associates) 1999 – Town of Needham Facility/School Master Plan Study (Kaestle Boos) 2002 – Broadmeadow Elementary School Addition 2002 – Pollard Middle School Modulars 2004 – Eliot Elementary School Reconstruction 2006 – Town of Needham Facility/School Master Plan Study (DiNisco Design) 2008 – Needham High School Reconstruction 2009 – High Rock School Reconstruction and Addition 2010 – Town of Needham Facility/School Master Plan Study (BH+A / Senior Center Study) 2012 – Newman Elementary School Systems Upgrade 2013 – Feasibility Study (Design Lab) 2014 – Extended School Day K-8 2014 – Town of Needham Facility/School Master Plan Study (HKT Architects) 2017 – Needham High School Cafeteria Expansion 2018 – Needham High School Addition 2019 – Mitchell Elementary School Modulars 2019 – Sunita Williams Elementary School Construction 2019 – Full-day Kindergarten 2020 – Feasibility Study (BH+A)
Sources: FAQ Presentation, slide 10; 2020-24 Capital Improvement Plan
School Committee Support
After considerable research, deliberation and evaluation of all possible options, the School Committee unanimously supports maintaining these critical school departments together in one building in a central location convenient to each of the nine schools, Town Hall, and public transportation. They support Dr. Gutekanst’s assertion that this option is in the best interest of children and families as well as school employees.
At the Special Town Meeting on October 25, 2021, Town Meeting Members will vote on Warrant Article 7, which would appropriate $1,475,000 for the engineering and design of the renovation. If approved, it is anticipated that there will be a request for construction funds at the May 2022 Annual Town Meeting. More details can be found in the October 2021 STM Warrant.